Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Part 19.5 - I say Stop Motion; You say Go-Motion!

I left you all in the car with me heading back to CalArts, but I forgot another very, very important shift that had happened in the Summer of 1981 - CLASH OF THE TITANS vs. DRAGONSLAYER.

How could I forget this?  Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy!
 I'm labeling this as a decimal installment because in the timeline, it starts in the very early Summer.  I mentioned that Cinefantastique had run an article about Rob Bottin and THE HOWLING.  That issue had  about report on Ray Harryhausen's latest effort, CLASH OF THE TITANS, on the cover.  Now, I've not hidden my love for Stop Motion Animation or Ray Harryhausen, but I can recall hearing that his latest film was going to be his biggest and his best.  With an all-star cast including Lawrence Olivier (you have to wonder if, when Ray was animating the moon-cow during FIRST MEN IN THE MOON, he ever thought Lawrence Olivier would one day star in one of his films!), Maggie Smith, Claire Bloom, Burgess Meredith, and Harry Hamlin.  Seeing photos of the Kraken (which had the signature Ymir mustache), I knew I was in for a good old-fashioned Harryhausen movie.  In fact, everything looked great with the exception of a mechanical owl called Bubo.

Bubo was kind of a Jar-Jar forerunner.
 Now, I have read that screenwriter Beverly Cross (whom I believe was Maggie Smith's husband at the time) had gone to great lengths to preserve as much of the ancient mythology as possible and that Bubo (in some incarnation) was part of the story.  But that's about as much leverage as I'm going to give it.  The scenes with Bubo were trying for a late teenager like myself.  The truth is that with everything I had seen in STAR WARS, EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, ALTERED STATES, etc, CLASH now looked dated even for a new movie.  Sure, there were some great moments of animation in the picture and I don't think that Medusa (even when compared to her digital facelift in the remake) has EVER been as effective as Ray Harryhausen's.

She was just downright SCARY!
 It was no surprise that this would be Ray's last film.  Historically, he was ending his long and influential career on the highest note he could accomplish in the light of what was happening in Hollywood at that time.  However, whether he was considering another film or not, the end of the traditional Stop Motion creature film was signaled, ironically, by someone who always had great respect for Ray.  The someone was Phil Tippett and the film was DRAGONSLAYER.

DRAGONSLAYER, a live-action Disney film, appeared at theaters with very little bally-hoo preceding it.  In fact, take a look at the poster:

Who knows what the hell is going to be in this film?
I had seen the trailer months prior, but aside from one shot of the full-sized, mechanical Dragon, there was no indication of what ended up in this film.

A bit like something you'd expect from THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT...
See what I mean?
But what audiences got was something that confounded me for the rest of the summer.  It was a flying, fire-breathing wonder that was seamless.  By seamless I mean that it was nearly impossible to figure out just exactly I was looking at.  I knew it had to be some kind of puppet or animatronic or something and you know what....months later I found out that I was right.  It was everything.

The dragon, named Vermithrax Pejorative, appeared in several incarnations from the full-sized prop made by the Disney Motion Picture Studios technicians, to a hand puppet made by Chris Walas (from another little film that had opened in June called RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) to an augmented Stop Motion puppet by Phil Tippett.

 I am an old man and I repeat myself, but I must stress this: No one, ever, ever-ever had seen anything like this and on a big screen in a theater.  It went beyond was confusing.

Now, I would be VERY remiss to not talk about RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, but my feeling is this:  As much as I love this movie, and as many times as I saw it in the theater (which was plenty, believe me), so much exists about the phenomenon that was Indiana Jones, that to add to it would just be redundant.  The only thing I will add is that in 6 months the Motion Picture Association decided that an exploding head no longer warranted an "R" rating.

Okay, so it wasn't as "graphic" as the SCANNERS head!
I now return you back to the established timeline...get back in the Lizard King!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Shannon

    I loved and still love stop motion. In fact now that CgI has become as ubiquitous as synth soundtracks in the 80's, the new wave of stop motion is more welcome than ever. There is something about knowing that the characters and the sets were actually really there which gives it a quality only simulated by CG equivalents.

    I think about the Aardman/Dreamworks effeort 'Flushed Away' which tried to replicate the charm of stop motion digitally, yet I thought 'Coraline' had the better feel.

    I am late thirties now and saw the original Clash at the cinema, and even though Bubo did kind of get in the way of the monster goodness, I LOVED that movie. I saw the new version and didn't care at all for it. I'm not at all averse to CGI, or digital animation (Pixar get it right almost every time) but it I think it needs to be used the right way.

    Incidentally, a workshop at Shepperton Studios has recently been demolished. It was for a time Harryhausen's workshop many years ago (not sure what productions it was used for), and I was sorry to see it go.

    Thanks for taking the time to write a great blog!